The British government has announced that it has decided to once again recognise a ceasefire by the unionist paramilitary UVF.
The act to 'despecify' the Ulster Volunteer Force and a closely-related group, the Red Hand Commando, was made in the London parliament by British Direct Ruler Shaun Woodward. It means that the British government believes the UVF is no longer involved in armed activity and paves the way for any qualifying UVF prisoners to be released.
Following an open feud in September 2005, the British government had been forced to abandon its recognition of the UVF 'ceasefire', declared in 1998 but which had been routinely ignored.
The UVF said last May that it was putting its arms 'beyond reach' -- but warned it would not be handing them over.
Dawn Purvis, the leader of the Progressive Unionist Party which represents the UVF politically, welcomed the announcement.
Purvis, who took over the leadership of the party following the death of David Ervine last year, said: "This is further evidence of Northern Ireland's strides towards normality."
Nationalist parties said UVF weapons decommissioning and an end to criminal activity remained outstanding issues which had to be addressed.
Sinn Féin assembly member Caral Ni Chuilin said that nationalists wanted to see a definite end to sectarian attacks.
"Regardless of what the British government chooses to say or do with the UVF, nationalists and republicans will want to see an end to loyalist involvement in sectarian attacks and drug dealing," she said.
"The issue of loyalist weapons must be definitively dealt with."
SDLP assembly member Alban Maginness said the UVF "must only be judged against how they measure up to the task of ending all of their activities.
"This means that there must be complete and verifiable disposal of all weapons, the ending of all criminality and the dismantling of the command structures and organisation."
* A unionist paramilitary band with links to the youth wing of the UVF is among dozens of sectarian 'kick-the-Pope' bands to receive funding from the Ulster-Scots Agency and the National Lottery.
Over sixty loyalist bands were given funds totalling more than a quarter of a million Euros last year, including the Pride of Ardoyne band, which carries UVF insignia. The band takes part in a highly contentious parade past the nationalist Ardoyne shops area in north Belfast each year.
The funding details were released in response to an assembly question from Sinn Féin Assembly member Paul Butler.